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Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Menaker’

Staff Picks: Getting On, Getting Away, Getting Organized!

January 30, 2015 | by

Labor,_Management

“Together We Can Do It!”

The latest issue of n+1 opens with an edifying symposium on labor and magazines, two subjects more historically entwined than you might think. Nikil Saval has an excellent primer on the first strike in publishing, and Gemma Sieff tells the still-contentious story of Harper’s unionization—but what really got me was Daniel Menaker’s recollection of tensions at The New Yorker in the seventies, when employees twice tried to stand up for better pay. William Shawn may have been an extraordinary editor, but a manager he was not. “We should have had a policy that after ten years,” he said in a speech to the staff, “if [employees] didn’t rise to something, then they should leave. They’re eccentric, unusual people, and we keep them on.” It’s a lot of inside baseball—I’m not sure, frankly, if anyone who doesn’t work at a magazine will care—but it will nurse the flame of the populist in your soul. And it provides a bracing counternarrative for the publishing industry, which is too often depicted as a kind of rarefied good-old-boys’ cabal. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must agitate for collective bargaining among the staff of a certain literary quarterly. Editors of the world, unite. —Dan Piepenbring

Maybe I’ve been watching too much Girls or Transparent or Togetherness, or reading too much Trollope (see below), but for my money, no comedy on TV can compete with season two of Getting On, a show with old, sick people in it, and with smart, passionate, deluded, lonely protagonists—none of whom is trying to get famous. Such people do exist, and their problems are funny, too. —Lorin Stein

While I was in England a few years ago, someone recommended I arrange to see an Evensong concert. The majesty of the experience doesn’t translate to anything I’ve encountered in the U.S.—the tightly enclosed chapels and their unspeakably beautiful designs, the intensity and reverberation of the voices, the ritual of it all. I was reminded of the experience—one that I repeated as many times as I could—when I came across the Choir of New College Oxford’s version of “Shenandoah.” (Leave it to an Oxonian choir to offer the most hauntingly beautiful version of an American folk song.) —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

The New York Times wrote that Kathleen Ossip’s first collection of poems, The Cold War, “conjures delightful and unexpected muses in this socio-poetical exploration of post-World War II America.” Her second collection, The Do-Over, is an equal delight. It uses the same socio-poetically shrewd eye to consider America’s pop-culture milieu, distilling its own understanding of mortality and death. Unassuming and masterly, Ossip’s poetry is sneaky, very often disguising itself as easy, and surprising you the moment you let your guard down; “her poems are fun and deadly serious at once,” as NPR put it. The Do-Over is a kind of elegy to contemporary culture: it critiques modern life while basking in its ever-younger, glitzier rabble. —Jeffery Gleaves
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That’s Material: An Interview with Daniel Menaker

January 21, 2014 | by

my mistake

Daniel Menaker doesn’t waste time in signaling his penchant for self-deprecation. The title of his wise, playful, deeply felt new memoir is My Mistake. And the memoirist, no mere tease, is happy to detail the errors he’s made during his life and his celebrated career as fiction editor of The New Yorker, publisher at Random House, and author of novels, stories, and essays.

Most of the blunders recounted by Menaker aren’t too dire, but he remains haunted by the inadvertent role he played in his only sibling’s untimely death. During a game of touch football in 1967, he challenged his older brother, Mike, to play backfield despite Mike’s bad knees, and from there everything went horribly amiss: Mike, then twenty-nine, sustained an injury that led to knee surgery, and this surgery led to a fatal blood infection called septicemia.

For all of Menaker’s mistakes, great and small, readers of My Mistake will likely feel that he got a lot more right than wrong. His memoir takes us from a red-diaper childhood in Greenwich Village through teenage summers on a colorful uncle’s Berkshires guest camp and an education at Swarthmore in the early sixties; it recounts his professional mentoring by the legendary William Maxwell and William Shawn, his office politics with Tina Brown and Harry Evans, and the editing of some of the great authors of our age. Menaker, who, at seventy-two, has written five other books, is an expert at turning those proverbial life-lemons into lemonades; his description of his protracted recent struggle with lung cancer, for example, winds up being one of the memoir’s most inspiring and invigorating sections.

Since finishing My Mistake, Menaker has been working on a series of thematically linked stories, and during an early December break in his current “self-financed” book tour, he answered each question I catapulted at him by telephone.

In My Mistake you say that writing a memoir was a means for you to take stock of your life while facing possible death, pondering what you call “the Great Temporariness.”

The book came about through a really weird route. The proposal for it was vastly different from the finished product. Fourteen people rejected it. I posted the rejections on the Huffington Post, and got in terrible trouble for that with my agent. I didn’t care—I’m too old to care about that shit. I just thought it was funny. And then somebody made an offer, but he was let go from the publishing house, or left, shortly after he acquired my book. I like to think there was no causal connection!

I’m not a big fan of the present tense, but it functions well in My Mistake.

Memoir is such a vexed form and category, for any number of reasons. I can’t even count how many reasons there are for not writing a memoir. People are not in it, or they are in it, they’re pissed off, your memory is wrong—there are all sorts of land mines. With a book that doesn’t have anything truly remarkable in it—I wasn’t captured and sexually violated for ten years, I wasn’t a jihadist, I didn’t go into outer space—I had to figure out how I could make this more immediate. It’s a kind of gadget to use the present tense, but it felt right. And it helped me to put myself—or pretend to myself that I was putting myself—back in the moment. It was a sort of shoehorn back into the past. Read More »

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